I never make posts on here, but if I did make them often, this is the kind of thing I’d be posting.
I do speech and debate at the college level, out in Pensacola. Our team is small and humble, but in the grand scheme of things, I think there’s something untapped about us that you can’t find at the much larger schools we compete against, namely the University of Alabama and the University of Florida.
There’s an event called rhetorical criticism, or communication analysis (depending on your methodology), which I participate in. This was my first year competing in the event, after taking a class on the actual research field. The abridged version you find in forensics (speech and debate) allows you too choose any “artifact”, be it a commercial, social media campaign, music video, movie, book, etc.
I chose the music video for “California Roll” by Snoop Dogg (with Pharrell and Stevie Wonder), which, if you haven’t seen the video or anything pertaining to it, caught a lot of flack due to ignorant people who thought this was another work of the Illuminati. Think of a video along the lines of Katy Perry and Juicy J’s “Dark Horse”, full of pyramids, the Sphinx, and the eye of Horus.
When you go back and look at what conspiracy theorists have to say about the music industry and videos like “California Roll”, “Dark Horse”, or just about anything Drake, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Kanye West…you get it… put out, you begin to notice just to what degree black rappers and singers are being demonized. Sure, Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” caught flack, too, but only the Kendrick Lamar version…
The point of my rhetorical criticism is that these conspiracy theorists have a deeper underlying prejudice towards black culture. These Egyptian symbols, which originated in African society and empires, are now being treated as if they are mind-control devices seeking to bring about an apocalypse through twerking and dank kush. Conspiracy theorists have deduced that these artists are puppets of Satan and desire a New World Order. But if that were true, why do they have more about to say than the “puppets” than the “puppet masters”? If you really wanted to point fingers, why assassinate the character of the artists and not the producers and industry heads?
I conclude that “California Roll” is really an attempt to reappropriate African culture from conspiracy theorists, and a Pan-African rallying call (I can post my speech if y’all are really interested, it’s a good read). Not only does it make the Illuminati theorists look corny and petty as hell, it’s a kick in the nuts to anyone who thinks black people are evil because of the color of their skin. Or like those who think the earthquake in Haiti is God’s punishment for voodoo practitioners. Yeah, that’s a real theory.
And speaking of looking corny, all of this theorizing surrounding this speech was just reaffirmed by watching Beyonce’s surprise music video for “Formation”. I’m sure, being social media moguls, you know that this song and video are now in existence for your audiovisual pleasure.
What I’d like to do now is a mini rhetorical criticism of what this video speaks to me. I’d also like to know your thoughts on it as well, and if you get what I’m saying.
I know many of you following me aren’t from the United States, and you may not know about regional culture here, aside from the very large distinction in “Northern” yankee culture and “Southern” redneck/cowboy culture. New Orleans, the setting for the video, is classified as part of the South (Louisiana is between Texas and Mississippi). Beyonce is from Houston, Texas, and I’m going to school in Pensacola, Florida. Both cities are pretty equally distant from New Orleans (that’s usually the halfway point for me driving to Houston).
And even though it is part of the South, black, white, and creole people in New Orleans all have distinct cultures. You have racism, black pride, and mixed people falling somewhere in between there. You have a Cajun culture much different than the whitbread, biscuits-and-gravy culture you’re surrounded by.
Beyonce showed you many of the sides of Southern heritage, through lyrics and imagery. You see dancing like that you would do to New Orleans bounce, a regional music genre. She talks about middle-class luxuries like Red Lobster… sometimes people joke about those who find chain restaurants like that and Olive Garden fancy.
Beyonce always keeps it real. No matter how rich she gets, she can be as classy as rocking Givenchy and as ratchet as carrying hot sauce. She is as black as her heritage, as Cajun, as white, as indigenous, as everything that makes her HER. She loves her husband’s big nose and her daughter’s big hair. She is not ashamed of the things that the media, and society, mocks about “blackness”.
She is a mixed-race beauty and proud of everything within her. She knows her roots but she is also always looking forward to the future.
New Orleans is the setting to comment on African heritage and the black community. We see, 11 years later, damage still done by Katrina. February is Black History Month in the United States, and the 9th is the official day for Mardi Gras, before Lent kicks off leading up to Easter. This all perfect timing to drop a new song, especially before the Super Bowl when you’re performing.
#BlackLivesMatter has not been getting much press lately, neither good nor bad. It’s as if people have stopped talking about black issues to focus on other pursuits. “Formation” is Beyonce grabbing us all by the chin and pulling our faces to her, so that we are making proper eye contact and listening to what she has to say.
Messy Mya and Big Freedia have voiceover parts, reminding us about gun violence and trans* violence in America today. There are many problems within the black community, and many forces working against the black community.
It’s like American Horror Story: Coven - the witches were feuding internally between sisters, and as a civil war about race, but then there were the witch hunters working against them to eradicate their entire race. Black men and women, too, must stop feuding with each other first and heal internally before they can begin to fight the forces trying to stop all of them.
Essentially, “Formation” allows Beyonce to say she is not ashamed of the blackness in her. Back in 2013 or 2014, maybe, she was criticized for skin lightening in magazine photos. Now, she is saying that nothing is wrong with how she, Hov, or Blue Ivy look, and that she is not ashamed to be the daughter of an African-American man.
She is not in the Illuminati. Black people don’t need to consort with the devil to become famous. They work as hard as everyone else to get where they are. She started humbly in Houston, working her way to stardom, and no one can say she took the easy way out to get there.
This video, hopefully, like “California Roll”, is a middle finger to conspiracy theorists and those who are working the forces against the black community - shady cops, politicians, gang members who destroy their own communities, violence against LGBT black citizens.
This is a call to get in formation - to slay or get slayed.