The truth of the matter is that DPJ is a corporate product and I understand that, and appreciate it even. Contrary to popular belief, if I were doing poetry for a living seeing Def Poetry and spoken , and Lyric Café on air would be a motivator, because I don’t believe anyone should starve to do what they love, pastors included. I’ll address the finance of it a bit later.
There are wonderful artist involved wit DPJ – if you watch the credits roll you will notice Suheir Hammad , Bassey Ipki, and Shihan all work behind the scenes to make DPJ a HBO reality. So I am no condemning the entire DPJ network – trust there is always someone fighting the good fight in every situation.
Now it is certainly eye opening to have one of those poets post to our little discussion – Big ups to Bassey for commenting.
I find it disheartening that HBO will show a show full of unknown comics – Bad Boys of Comedy ( a blatant rip of Def Comedy Jam –Record exec showcases talent and makes a appearance at the end? Sean wants to be Russell huh?) – which airs just before def poetry in several time slots, but a show full of unknown but equally if not superiorly talented poets makes the executives shutter? Def poetry on Broadway is a show of unknowns or at least little-knowns, and it won a Tony and completed a full run – but there is no audience? I think that is just a veil they stand behind to justify the B.S. they are subjecting this art form to. Bassey mentioned the concessions people have to make to get the show on the air – and I can appreciate the power structure and the way the world works, but you would think that after the third or fourth season – it would have proven to be a ratings draw or you would have canceled it. The Wire drew on average in the area of 4.5 million viewers and Carnival averaged somewhere around 1.8 to 3 million viewers, so I have to assume Def poetry pulls better numbers than that or they would have pulled this plug too. I know the only reason I have a subscription to HBO is Def Poetry and when the show cancels – as eventually all shows do – I’ll be canceling my HBO subscription as well. HBO doesn’t sell ads people – they sell subscriptions – you can’t say you support the show if you don’t either subscribe and watch or own the DVD’s. I would watch Spoken and Lyric Cafe but they don’t offer those channels on my cable provider and I have written several letters to try and sway them to pick them up – and once I find a provider that provides all the channels I am looking for I’ll probably switch and Tivo those too.
My point was – cause I can sway off point – that HBO gets what it is looking for by airing Def Poetry – subscribers. I believe that their commercialization of the show has more to do with the commercialization of Hip Hop, because they connect poetry so directly with Hip Hop, they want to do exactly what they have done to hip hop- turn it into a form of Rap, and you can’t do that with out celebrities. Rap would not be a viable source of income for record labels if there was no Lil John and Master P with mouths full of gold teeth and cars painted in Gucci. Without 50cent and the Game and characters like Lil Kim and Eminem records don’t sell. And maybe they think that without “celebrity poets” people won’t watch. But people spend hard cash weekly to go to open mics and watch unknowns weekly. Effectively I spend less on my HBO subscription (18-21 dollars per month) than I did on cover charges in any given month (lets say you go to five events any given month 3-5$ covers and two 7$ covers = $24 per month) and still get the same good poetry to time ration filled. Cause you know you go to an “average” open mic and it’s a crap shoot. Its like pulling a slot machine arm, you never know what’s gonna happen until it happens. And while regulars are nice – they get old after a while cause they do the same poems over and over again. (I was a regular – requests –while flattering – can be a bitch) So I can condense my poetry fix to a half an hour (which should arguably be an hour) a week, and avoid wack poets – (at least in theory) all in one sitting, and meet some new artists at the same time? SWEET! Only not cause we only get 22 minutes of poetry and when a third of that is celebrities not directly related to literature I feel gypped of my 7 ½ minutes!
Now the finance of the situation. People have blogged their disappointment in poets for making a living with their poetry and art. I am counting Mos as a poet as several people kindly informed me that Mos is a poet – although if he would read some of his poetry and stop rapping at the beginning of the episodes (I’m talking about when he actually hits the stage and not when he quotes a ‘def poet’ under the cello riff) I might know that. When was the last time you went to a poetry spot and the host NEVER read or spit? That’s all I’m saying on that one.
Back to the lecture at hand- the finance- I personally believe as long at the performance is sincere and quality sponsorship should be encouraged. Shihan with Pepsi and Nike – that –ish he spit was hot. And made a great way to break up mindless T.V to see a spot that made me wake up and Tivo a commercial. Yes I Tivo commercials. Now the Mickey D’s radio commercials about the filet o fish – I HATE THOSE. They are insulting to me as a poet – on some Dr. Seuss crack because really Dr. Seuss was a genius and deserves to be respected a little more than “no mai mai if you pleas, don’t want no sushi…” BTW sushi is the shiznit and if you pass on a spider roll for a fliet o fish well you deserve what you get.
So no, I for one, begrudge no artist the right to make money off of their art – if you believe in what you are being asked to sponsor by all means shine your light on that. I have no doubt that Mos drives or owns a SUV so I can’t be mad at the brother on the Denali tip– I am actually a bit more proud that he at least got paid to advertise the product rather than doing it for free, like most rappers who put these products in their videos and rap about Air force ones and increase the sales of the product with no financial gain. That is the same reason why I can appreciate Damon Dash and Jay-Z for starting a liquor company so they could stop giving free add space to crystal. Still destructive to our communities – yes – but at least it teaches our young people SOMETHING.
I really enjoy debates such as these – our communities need to be more vocal about the things we let into our homes and make sure they live up to higher standards our children need. We make progress everytime we talk about something – anything – which is what makes the blogging community so powerful.
Be Peaceful Be Poetry People.
BTW Season 3 of Def Poetry hits DVD on July 19th – pick it up – we still need to support the art and the medium.