misrepresentation of lauryn hill

The Mis-Representation of Lauryn Hill

As most of you know, Hip Hop artists don’t often get a fair shake when it comes to coverage in the mainstream media. What coverage they do get tends to lean more towards negative, condescending or dismissive.

A beef over petty bullshit between two marginally talented rappers seeking publicity, a club shooting or beatdown, arrests over drugs, guns or spousal abuse, badly worded offensive statements either tweeted or uttered inappropriately during interviews, and Kanye’s massive ego are all a good source of tabloid fodder.

This grist for the media mill also serves the dual purpose of reducing Hip Hop to an inarticulate, hollowed out art form obsessed with ego, shallow materialism, violence and sexism (not surprisingly all are ‘values’ that the mass media have been waterboarding us all in for the last several decades) and neutralizing any independent thought, intellectual discussion or social criticism that arises from Hip Hop artists. This is especially so when the artist is directly challenging the status quo, is very articulate about it and it has a risk of giving a lot of people the “wrong ideas”.

Nothing has demonstrated this more than in the recent press coverage from last week’s case of Ms. Hill getting misdemeanor charges for not filing tax returns and the subsequent response she had written on her blog. For all y’all that haven’t read what she had to say I highly suggest checking it out; it is well worth the read.

Press coverage of this case has been, for the most part, generally fair in regards to Ms. Hill. Many news outlets do cite her response and quote from it explaining the background where she’s coming from, what’s motivating her and how she hopes to have the issue settled and resolved. But there has been one notable exception that really stood out and gave a nasty spin on the whole affair: the “Ministry of Gossip” column for the Los Angeles Times. ‘Entertainment’ sections of newspapers are given a bit more ‘artistic freedom’ when it comes to covering their stories, but Christie D’Zurilla’s take on the situation leaves a nasty taste in one’s mouth. A mix between contemptuous insults and childish sarcasm, the first reaction you get reading her article is how banal and immature her worldview is (and, one would presume, the one of her regular readers) simply by her emphasis on the “very small type” of font Ms. Hill used on her Tumblr blog.

First off, could someone please educate Ms. D’Zurilla on how to change the font size on her web browser if the small font is really that much of big deal for her? Hell, she could copy and paste the blog into a word processor and do it there, computers are useful like that if you have some idea on how to use them aside from spouting brainless claptrap about celebrities on Twitter. I get the impression that Ms. D’Zurilla is more annoyed with the 1300+ words in Lauryn’s response and her use of many big words that you wouldn’t normally encounter if your day job was restricted to finding out the seedy details of celebrities’ sex lives.

But what stands out is Ms. D’Zurilla’s insipid attack on Ms. Hill’s desire to build a community of like minded people outside of the Entertainment Industry’s grip. Ms. Hill uses the term ‘Military-Industrial Complex’ and that’s where the LA Times author chooses to attack to discredit Lauryn Hill.

“The Ministry of Gossip tends to quake in its stiletto boots when the military-industrial complex shows up in the second sentence of anything, and even more so when it shows up in the second sentence.”

Putting aside the awkward phrasing, the response is hackneyed, almost predictable, with a good whiff of arrogance & pretentiousness that’s pretty ballsy coming from a Hollywood gossip column. “Military-Industrial Complex” has been treated by the mass media as one of those buzzwords that establishment types use to make something sound “conspiracy theorish” to give its passive audience a reason to dismiss an idea and to make them feel smart as they bask in their own ignorance. Despite people’s programmed response to dismiss the term, the “military-industrial complex” is no laughing matter but rather it is a serious topic that has a massive real-world impact on all our lives; exactly what Ms. Hill tries to bring across in her blog.

The Military-Industrial Complex is very real and has grown to a beyond-leviathan size ever since Eisenhower warned us about it over half a century ago. At the same time, it has greatly expanded into the Entertainment Industry and has incorporated itself into virtually every facet of that industry. This shouldn’t be too surprising since Hollywood has always been more than willing to offer its services and resources to the Military and vice versa (check this out).

The role the Military-Industrial Complex plays in our modern world may have started after World War II and grew steadily since then but it’s in the post-9/11 world that we’ve seen it grow to the gargantuan monster that has been ruining American society and destroying many others across the planet. Americans have had over half their tax dollars funneled into the military, the intelligence and other “national security” agencies and the so-called “defence” industry at the expense of the very things that keeps their communities alive and flourishing: health, education, support for disadvantaged groups, investments for small businesses and the arts & culture.

We’ve seen the rise of the Prison-Industrial complex which looks more like a modern day Gulag Archipelago than anything else. We see a growing and increasingly totalitarian police state creep its way throughout America (and not to mention in other Western countries) where the TSA are now manning checkpoints on highways, police do arbitrary arrests for fickle reasons and people’s communications and private lives are monitored.

We’ve seen in the past decade, under both Bush and Obama, the expansion of war and military conflict throughout the world. From the destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan and the communities in those countries, to drones blowing up families in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, to the US bombing Libya and helping violent Islamist mercenaries ethnically cleanse that country of Black Libyans, to the impending attack on Iran, Syria and likely beyond, the level of violence inflicted by the Military-Industrial Complex is staggering and horrifies the soul. Any society or community that tries to remain independent from the US or it’s economic interests faces death, torture, mutilation, destruction if not outright annihilation. The toll on Americans, while not as bad as their victims, is equally dramatic. Hundreds of thousands of physically and emotionally scarred Americans come home, many of them commit suicide, others take out their violence on the rest of society, some even join the growing ranks of police, mercenaries and private security. It is a society that has used violence to solve virtually all its problems including the use of private mercenaries shooting civilians in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. To make things worse, austerity is a class war weapon used against the 99% to rob them the last of their wealth and let the rest starve and rot in the chaos that follows. With economic collapse all but certain and around the corner the time to focus on building our own self-sustaining communities is more urgent now than it ever was.

It is in this context that Ms. Hill’s actions and words come from and why we should praise her courage and wisdom as well as follow her example. She, like many other artists, were introduced into the Entertainment Industry, were shocked and alienated by the latter’s treatment of them, their talent and their health; feared for their livelihoods and those of whom they cared about and took action. As she stated a couple of years ago,

“Oftentimes, the machine can overlook the need to take care of the people who produce the sounds that have a lot to do with the health and well-being of society…And it’s important that people be given the time that they need to go through, to grow, so that the consciousness level of the general public is properly affected.” (http://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/news/singer-lauryn-hill-breaks-her-silence-after-over-a-decade-2010286)

Ms. Hill, as she spells out in her blog, was concerned not only for her own well-being and that of her family’s but also at the Entertainment Industry’s manipulative, ruthlessly coercive and parasitical practices not just towards the artists that produce the content they exploit and profit from but also at the young audience who’s collective consciousness they are trying to crush. The industry bombards its target with weapons of crass sex, narcissistic obsessions with wealth, status & image and gratuitous violence. It atomizes people and divides them against their neighbors and communities, promoting selfishness and indifference to others. It brainwashes people into conformity and preaches hatred towards the “other” whether it may be a foreigner living far away, a minority or the economically poor at home, a political or social dissident, across genders and age-groups and any other way that a people can be divided. It takes art and culture and uses it as a weapon of indoctrination and control.

It’s no wonder Ms. Hill wanted to get herself and her loved ones out of that situation. And whatever her motivation for not paying taxes, who can honestly blame her for not wanting to feed the beast? If anything we should all do what we can to stop paying our taxes that fuel the Military-Industrial Complex and the machinery that supports it and refocus our own resources and energies on creating mutually beneficial and supportive communities as Ms. Hill tried to do.

At best, Ms. D’Zurilla’s article is nothing more than an attempt at defending the very industry that Lauryn Hill is defending herself, her family and her community from: the Entertainment Industry. It is a weapon of mass distraction, intimately linked with the Military-Industrial Complex, that has ruined and destroyed countless lives, of both the artists that it exploits, and the mass audience that follows the illusions it sells.

In the end the only thing I can credit Ms. D’Zurilla is that she didn’t resort to that old “Lauryn Hill hates white people” bullshit from back in the day. Apart from that I’d suggest she stick to what she knows best like, say, trying to find out which porn star Charlie Sheen is currently banging.

As for Ms. Hill we praise her for her intelligence and her bravery as a mother and as a multi-talented artist. We thank her for challenging the status quo and leading by example and wish her best of luck in resolving her tax situation. The Industry may have won some battles, and left victims in their wake, but in this case, they just “lost one”.

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