Published on 9/21/2009
“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” –Harold Wilson
“Beyonce is everybody’s idol!!! I love her!!! Never hate her!!!” – Comment following a Clutch article in March 2009
What’s really new under the sun these days? A two-sided news-talk television cesspool, one side hellbent on proving to the world the U.S. president’s incompetence, and the other side giving the necessary resistance? Kanye making donkeys look civilized? White people calling him a racist because of his boost to donkeys? Mary J. Blige on the cover of Essence?
Nothing’s ever new, and perhaps it’s right for things to be that way. Because if recent events tell us anything, change is a concept that tends to stir things into a frenzy. Power structures must be maintained, at any and all costs, or there will be hell to pay.
I never believed in Santa Claus. But I was always innately aware about telling others my privy knowledge. It’s an unwritten code among parents: Perpetuate the myth and let the child be a child. Its intentions are seemingly noble enough, until its continuance becomes an untreatable habit and before you know it, there are many minor Clauses (in the form of heroes, celebrity figures, professionals).
And like the opportunistic Americans we are, somebody will find a way to make elephant dollars off it.
Yada, yada, yada. We’ve heard this before.
Enter magazine publications aimed toward black audiences. Lest we not confuse this for complete condemnation against certain reputable publications. Some have served millions of people over the years, providing exquisite interviews, editorials, images, and insights. And the author of this note isn’t blind to the fact that revenue for niche-audience magazines isn’t the most abundant these days.
But surely there’s something to be noted about the repetitive nature of selective celebrity figures who grace their covers. Jada, Gabrielle, Serena, Jill, Monique, Queen, Beyonce, MJB, Nia, J-Hud: all women on first or nickname basis with their audience who have had cover appeal with Essence in the last year. Going back three years, with the exception of Michelle O, Taraji Henson, Erykah Badu, Halle and Tyra (two more one-name celebs), the variation among women on the Essence cover is wanting (shout out to the Lauryn Hill cover in Feb 2006).
(Check it for yourself here).
Talented individuals for sure, but not enough to monopolize black magazine covers.
The conflict in this is the essential conflict of any business: Do we want to sell magazines? Yes. Do we want to fill a niche for the black audience? Sure, their spending power is expected to exceed a trillion dollars in a couple of years. Do we want to uplift them through our content? Of course we do…serendipitously. The bottom line is the number advertisements we can accrue, because without that, we’re stuck at a “kill myself” job and no longer fulfilling our dream. And who wants that?
But consider this: Have you even given your audience – who give their time and money – a chance to decide for themselves?
Mara Brock Akil, hugely successful writer and creator of a few shows you might have heard of. Gina Prince-Bythewood. Sheila Johnson. Sophie Okonedo. Paula Patton. Tia Mowry. Sonja Sohn. Anika Noni Rose.
How about some solo covers for a couple Hall-of-Fame tennis players from Compton?
Antoine Fuqua. F. Gary Gray. Yamara Taylor. Makeba Riddick. What about the cast of “House Of Payne?” Like it or not, the show did make history for televisual sitcoms.
Worthy of praise? Yes. Profitable? More than likely. Either cerebral accomplishments are taboo, there’s a mandate for eye-candy celebrities or the producers of content are insidiously aware of heroism factor in the black community.
What about burgeoning black models who have a hard time getting recognition? Not a chance. If your name doesn’t rhyme with “fiance” or “oblige,” you’re more than likely dead to them.
Whoa, whoa. Pump your brakes there, Mr. Clay. It’s not that simple. You know celebrities are the most salable asset a magazine has. Ads baby. We need an advertising magnet. Even one of your own Santas, Jay-Z, said, “Rap mags try and use my black ass, so advertisers can give ’em more cash for ads.” He was right! So f— outta here with that commie nonsense. Are you going to give us the money?
Let’s say I’m an artist. If I want exposure – which Jay-Z does – wouldn’t I want you to think that I’m an inelastic product? Law of economics at work. Shawn and his cohorts understand that. Instead of featuring brilliant up-and-comers and below-the-radar talents, bringing some disparity to your intelligent audience and giving other entertainers their due, you want to stay on the teat of “hottest chicks in the game.” And that’s why celebrities got you by the balls.
Media and celebrities used to have a symbiotic relationship: Celebrities grants access and gives the publication – thus the world – a peek into their lives. In return, the media gives them press and raises their profile. It worked for a while. But the emergence of the Internet and blogs have crippled you; the “middleman” has become more expendable. Celebrities no longer need you to air their life’s tidbits; they’ll just tweet it or post on their site.
So let the kowtowing begin! And please, don’t let the poor consumer stop you. God forbid the cover beauties you have on rotation should stop.
Change is a drug avoided at all costs, but it’s the only thing that saves a business from a fed-up audience. When fed-up comes rolling through, let me know. That train will never be too late.