Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ramon Riley - TEN - Who Are WE Visually?

Writing TEN  - “Who Are WE Visually”?
Ramon Riley

Cool.  The word has been extracted from it’s vernacular origins.  It is the key to America’s visual mission statement.  Introduced to America by Miles Davis with “Birth of the Cool” recorded in 1949 and released in 1957, the idea of "cool" and being cool has been marketed and sold ever since.

It is not a coincidence that the emergence of Jazz, an American-born art form, happened just before American commercials and advertisements began selling a way of life and ideas of success instead of strictly being informational campaigns to move consumer goods... marketing “cool”.  Sparked by The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s-1930’s, like the more recent hip-hop explosion of the 1980’s-1990’s,  it was a cultural movement where music, poetry and art was seamlessly woven within a lifestyle.  Black Americans of The Harlem Renaissance, who were not of the mainstream, invented and reinvented themselves.  Anthropologist and author Zora Neale Hurston said, “Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company?” America couldn’t.  

America’s acceptance of it’s Black citizens as the entrepreneurs of “cool” led to the progress of the civil rights movement, to progress in education, to progress in socio-economics... all the way to the white house.  Black people make white people rich because black people create “cool” and corporations manufacture, package and sell “cool” for profit.  Do I sound racist?  Wikipedia Elvis Presley. You know, “the king”?  “He began his career in 1954, working with Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, who wanted to bring the sound of African-American music to a wider audience.”  Elvis Presley was manufactured and marketable “cool” in an acceptable package at the time.

Knowing that televisions upstart in the early 50’s, marketed as an educational tool, becoming a tool for product placement puts things in perspective for me (p. 151-186).  I am reading between the lines, but, there is a connection to Black history.  Black Americans gained civil rights just in time to be useful salespeople, as well as consumers.  If you watch sports, for example, Black athletes have become inseparable from the company that markets them.  I merely think about Michael Jordan, and an image of the Jumpman  logo (a spin-off company of Nike) appears in my mind.  I see the Jumpman logo, and images of Jordan dunking from the free throw line in the ’87 dunk contest is conjured.    

Visual media becomes even more complex, because black people have not had civil rights long enough to accumulate generational wealth.  America associates a face of authenticity with its Black citizens.  If we see a rich Black person, or a successful Black person, we assume they are a product of the American Dream, advancing oneself through hard work and opportunity, not through nepotism.  ...and that is “cool”.  So when many Americans see black skin, they think “cool”.  President Obama and Jay-Z should hang out (and they do) because they are both black.  And through a series of deductions, if X equals Z and Y equals Z and Jay-Z is “cool”, then... I have no idea where I was going with that...

The pitfall is believing one’s own hype.  Miles Davis birthed “cool” because he was as inventive in music as Picasso was in visual art.  He sampled and appropriated a genius blend of sources, and he OWNED the product because he OWNED the process.  Michael Jordan was “cool” because he mastered the fundamentals and studied the best before him, dominating a team sport in an unprecedented way.  MJ was jazz in the athletic form.  These are just two examples of icons whose image/persona of  the “cool” is supported by substance.  The difference was time.  Davis was “Birth of the Cool” and Jordan was a pioneer during an ascension of the mastery of media's use of "cool".  

Reading Sturken and Cartwright’s Practices of Looking... has been life-changing for me.  This book filled in many gaps.  Visual media has been mastered.  We are easily defeated by it’s power.  If I am thinking it, I may be too late, for it’s already being test-marketed.  Each chapter provided insight on ways it happens... 

Unfortunately, mastery of media means media is able to separate “cool” from its origins.    Media manufactures rebellion in ways, such as teen angst, for example, and kids believe that is cool.  Every time I see screen-printed t-shirts that say “Anarchy”, I say “packaged rebellion” to myself.  Media places labels on people to separate us.  Media doesn’t wait for us to want.  Except now, our wants don’t have to be backed by substance.  It makes the work of corporate pseudo-artists easier, and who wouldn’t want to make their job easier.  We are misled to believe that’s the American way, but that ain’t “cool”.  When we simply go along for the ride, we lose our “cool”.

So, Who are we?  ...collectively as Americans...  Well, we want to be “cool” because “cool” was born when media was born.  “Cool” and media grew up together.  Americans invented jazz, and, therefore, invented the formula for “cool”.  Now, “cool” is more American than apple pie.  “Cool” is dreaming and carrying out ones dreams TODAY.  You want to play on the big stage? Start playing on whatever stage will have you, and OWN IT like it is the big stage.  That’s "cool". ...even if that big stage means practicing into a broomstick/microphone.  ...just so long as one is working at it, then you're really “cool”.

“C-O-O-L What's that spell? 
C-O-O-L That spells cool's all because of something 
That I didn't learn in school 
I'm just cool (Cool) 
Honey, baby can't U see? 
Girl, I'm so cool (Cool) 
Ain't nobody bad like me 

C-O-O-L   C-O-O-L”

-The Time

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