“Everybody is a star.”
— Sly and the Family Stone
A bunch of kids are beating the daylight outta each other as a gathering crowd eagerly cheers them on.
All of a sudden, somebody pulls out a gun and squeezes off a couple of shots in the air. The once-entertained crowd now scatters into the alleyways, leaving the once-crowded street barren.
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While this may seem like a scene from your favorite R-rated adult flick , it isn’t.
It’s a Facebook Live video from a local public-housing development that your child may be watching right now.
Back in 1989, when Facebook guru Mark Zuckerberg was still in preschool, there was a movie released called "Sex, Lies and Videotape" about some people who got their kicks by blabbing about their sexual escapades on tape. The movie raised more than a few eyebrows, but in the age of social media, it would be no more controversial today than an episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.
One of the current trends on the ‘net is to post fights on Facebook Live, a social-media apparatus that allows people to stream live video from their smart phones. While this has come in handy for catching crooked cops brutalizing innocent citizens or random acts of racism at your local burger joint, the downside is that it can also be used to broadcast bloody WWE-like brawls, as well.
For some reason Americans have always had a fatal attraction to violent voyeurism. Remember, the lyric “I once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” wasn’t penned by gangsta rapper Ice Cube, but by country music legend Johnny Cash.
However. with the negative and often violent portrayal of African Americans in the media, for black folk it is especially problematic.
I was a very harsh critic of the way that the black community was stereotyped by the “hood" films that surfaced in the '90s. Back then , the enemy was obvious, as it seemed that the bigtime directors in Cali had nefarious reasons for feeding the world images of black blood being spilled across the big screen.
But when the movie directors are 15-year-old kids, well, it gets complicated.
I mean, I get it. Everybody wants their 15 minutes of fame. Especially if you are from a less-affluent community where nobody seems to care what you think or what you have to say.
I was was young once and, in retrospect, my cruisin’ through quiet residential neighborhoods at 1 a.m. blastin’ LL Cool J was just a feeble attempt for me to be acknowledged by a society that wanted to keep me invisible.
But besides waking people out of their blissful, slumber and maybe once in a while knocking somebody’s family portrait off the wall, nobody got hurt. The world is very different now.
In social-media currency a million views is worth a million bucks. And many kids are trying to cash in by getting views, regardless of what it takes. The more violent the video , the more views. So, the class wallflower can become an overnight internet celebrity by simply bashing somebody over the head with a steel chair.
But are there other ways to get famous without being infamous?
Just ask the Triangle's own Michael Rae Anderson, who was once facing the electric chair for a murder rap. I met Mike back in 2006 when he was known as Poetick M.I.C. while he was performing spoken word at an area event courtesy of a community visit passes.
Since his release from prison in 2008, Anderson has written three books and appeared in at least 10 films. Social media has created an epidemic, he says, and “we must break the chains and free ourselves from being the minstrels of violence.”
After all , while some folk may see Facebook as entertainment, others will use the videos as Exhibit A as they try to justify such things as police brutality and gentrification. But how can we direct these youth to be the lead actors and actresses in Hollywood blockbusters instead of neighborhood snuff films?
“It starts with their hearts, “ Anderson says. Indeed. And that goes both ways. They have to have the heart to want better and we have to have the heart to want it for them and supply the necessary resources.
Sly Stone once asked “ever catch a falling star? Ain’t no stoppin' 'till it’s in the ground.” As a community, we have to do something about Facebook Live before it leaves a generation Facebook dead.
Paul Scott’s column appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month. Follow him at NoWarningShots.com or on Twitter @NWSF